Life is full of meetings and conversations we’d rather not have, and presentations we’d rather not give. But the truth of the matter is that we’re all social beings who rely on communication in almost everything we do. Wouldn’t it make sense then that we should all strive to become better and more comfortable at talking to one another?
Getting people to become more effective communicators is what the author Leil Lowndes in her book “How to Talk to Anyone”, has devoted her life’s work to. She’s observed people, studied the research and noticed every little tic and habit that causes them to either stumble over themselves or to get the most out of a conversation. For decades she’s been releasing books filled with dos and don’ts designed to help people better navigate the choppy waters of everyday communication.
So dive in and learn some of the basic – and some of the more advanced – techniques that can help you through a casual conversation or stressful high-stakes meeting. Let’s not kid ourselves: first impressions are really important. When you meet someone for the first time, the way you look and act is seared into their brain, and it will undoubtedly influence any future dealings you have with that person.
The first thing someone sees is your face, so this is where a good first impression begins. Did your mom ever tell you to always make sure you smile when you meet new people? You may have found it annoying at the time, but she was right. A smile can make a big difference in whether or not you win someone over.
People can spot a fake smile, however, so let the grin grow slowly, as this will make it appear more personal and genuine. Studies show that a natural-looking smile is even more important among women. In corporate environments, women who are slower to smile are considered more credible.
Another tip is to avoid giving everyone in a group the same smile, as this can be off-putting. Try to vary your grin as you deal with different people. Your eyes are also an important asset in winning people over – it has been proven that establishing steady eye contact will help you gain both respect and affection. If you want to improve a relationship, maintain eye contact with that person even if they’re not talking, and only break off that contact when you must.
Now, with your face sorted out, let’s move on to body language, which has a powerful influence on how you’re perceived by others. For starters, it’s important to recognize that just because someone’s a stranger, it doesn’t mean you have to act like she’s one. Instead, when greeting someone for the first time, do so as if she were an old friend. Along with a warm smile, turn your body fully toward her so she can see you’re giving her your undivided attention.
You can also avoid falling out of her good graces by making sure not to fidget – which means keeping your hand gestures under control. It may sound odd, but studies show that if you touch your face when you talk it makes you seem less credible – so keep calm, and keep your hands away from your face.
Before you meet with someone for the first time, you might have anxious thoughts like “What if we don’t have anything in common?” or “What are we going to talk about?” Luckily, you’ll often find that a smooth introduction is all that’s needed to get a good conversation going.
The easiest way to make that introduction happen is to request it from a mutual friend or the person hosting the event you’re at. Alternatively, you can ask them a few questions about the mysterious stranger so that you have a way to start the conversation yourself.
Finally, you can also loiter near the stranger, listen in and see if you find an opening to jump in. One classic technique for getting others to come talk to you is to have an icebreaker, or conversation starter, that you can bring with you, such as a vintage pocket watch, or one-of-a-kind purse. This opens the door for someone to ask, “Where did you get that?” Before you know it you’re chatting like the best of friends.
If you’re the one hosting the meeting, you can make things easier by making introductions and including one or two interesting facts about each person. This way, everyone has a chance to ask a follow-up question and get the ball rolling.
Once introductions are made, and the conversation has started, your attention can then focus on your demeanor. No one wants to be stuck in a conversation where someone is droning on about some boring and seemingly endless story. So to
ensure you’re not inflicting this upon other people, pay close attention to how they are speaking and responding. Try to match their mood and tone of voice, and the chances are everyone will be attentive and engaged.
For instance, if they’re smiling and using animated gestures, do the same. Or, if the mood is somber and people are leaning back in their chairs, do your best to fit in. When you spot your chance to enter a conversation, the best thing to do is be confident in what you say and is be confident in what you say and engage with a positive attitude. This is even more important than the words you use, as long as you avoid comments that are rude, unpleasant or that could be seen as complaints, as this would create a negative first impression.
You might think that small talk is inconsequential and a waste of time, but this is plain wrong. In your business and private life, small talk can mean the difference between winning someone over and scaring them off.
If your small-talk skills are lacking, try to prepare for the inevitable questions you’ll get asked. What questions always come up when getting to know someone? Chances are, it’s things like, “Where are you from,” or, “What do you do?” And due to their perennial nature, these questions often solicit drab, abrupt and uninviting answers. So
instead of giving one-word answers like “London” and “Marketing,” be prepared to elaborate. Keep the conversation flowing by leading into an interesting fact or anecdote that opens the door for another topic.
For example, if you’re hometown is Washington, DC, you could mention that it was designed by the same city planner who laid the plans for Paris. This could spark further conversation about traveling. Another winning tip is to focus on being a good listener, and knowing how to keep your partner talking.
It might seem like a contradiction, but one of the best ways to make people think that you’re a great conversationalist is to say very little and keep the spotlight on your partner. This way, they’ll be too busy talking and being flattered by your interest to notice that you aren’t saying much.
A common way to keep a person talking is to use their pauses as an opportunity to take the last thing they said and repeat it in such a way that it puts the ball back in their court. By keeping a person talking, you can lead them to all manner of interesting revelations.
An easy way to win some conversational kudos is to know who in the group has a great story and then to give that person a proper introduction. This not only provides the group with entertainment, but the person with the story will most likely appreciate the way you gave them the opportunity to shine.
Just make sure the story is appropriate and wasn’t something you were told in confidentiality; otherwise, this tactic could backfire rather awkwardly. Whenever you talk, you should also try to avoid saying things that will make you look bad. When people
Whenever you talk, you should also try to avoid saying things that will make you look bad. When people are getting to know each other better, they often feel the impulse to confess something personal or reveal a weakness. This is a mistake. Unless the person is already thoroughly impressed by you, revealing a secret will likely just make them wonder what else you’re hiding.
Here’s a fact of human nature that can be helpful to keep in mind: people tend to like those with whom they have traits in common. This is something you can use to your advantage by highlighting the commonalities you have with the person you’re trying to flatter.
As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – so use this to make it easier for you to get along with others. How do they move? Are they slow and careful, or nervous and jumpy? When you reflect a person’s movements, they’ll tend to feel more comfortable around you, even if they’re not exactly sure why. The same goes for language, so try to use the same words and phrases they do.
For example, if you’re talking to someone who says they work for an ad agency, notice that they didn’t call it a company or a firm, and do likewise yourself. You can take this a step further by using words that relate to their interests; if they’re into baseball, you could help them hit a “home run,” and if boating is their thing you could welcome them as part of the “crew.”
Another way to build rapport is to drop the “ums” and use empathizers instead. When we talk, we tend to subconsciously reply with monosyllabic mumblings such as “huh,” “yep” or “um,” just to acknowledge that we’re listening. But if you want to make a good impression, use full sentences that show your partner that you’re truly listening, like, “That was the right thing to do,” or, “I see why you did that.” This will help your partner see that you really understand them.
Another top-notch rapport booster that will take you from being mere acquaintances to close friends in no time is adopting two powerful words: “we” and “us.” For the most part, people tend to use these words only when speaking of their closest friends and partners. By using these words around someone you want to bring into your inner circle, you’ll speed up the friendship-forming process.
So rather than saying, “What do you think about this new mayor?” try saying, “How do you think we’ll do with the new mayor?” Finally, learn to cultivate in-jokes. They are a cornerstone of any close relationship. If you want to quickly form a bond, remember when funny remarks and shared laughs occur, and cleverly bring them up again later on. Suddenly, you’ll have a memorable, shared history between the two of you!
Praise is a good thing, right? It is in theory, but in practice, it can backfire if the recipient thinks you’re being insincere. Therefore, it’s wise to give praise indirectly.
One way of doing this is to pass along any nice words via a mutual acquaintance. By having a third party deliver the good news, both the recipient and the messenger will come away feeling great.
Likewise, if you’re ever approached by someone to pass along a good word, be sure to follow through on it – you’ll find that being the bearer of good tidings has its own rewards.
If you’re the one directly giving a compliment, however, avoid being too obvious about it. Instead, you could include it in a casual remark. For instance, you could ask someone “How are you?” and then briefly glance at them before continuing, “You’ve obviously been well.” Or you can subtly imply that you respect the other person by asking them for, say, a restaurant recommendation. This shows that you admire their good taste. If you feel the need to be more direct, remember that a little praise goes a long way.
Generally speaking, everyone feels they do good work that goes largely unnoticed. By simply telling someone that they did a good job, you’ll be making their day! Keep in mind that it’s even better when the praise is immediate. Rather than waiting a week before delivering it, speak up right when the good deed happens.
Immediate praise can be especially good when someone’s just given a presentation, since public speaking is tough for most people. Even if you’re stretching the truth, your colleague will appreciate it if you tell them that they did a good job right away.
But for those nearest and dearest to you, you can be specific in your praise. If you want to deliver a dazzling compliment to that special someone in your life, just highlight one specific trait that you really admire. Maybe it’s their stylish good looks, their amazing perseverance or their impeccable charm – if you’re sincere and genuine in your compliment, they’ll be sure to appreciate it.
With some basic understanding of human nature and people’s habits, anyone can learn how to be a better communicator and improve their relationships. Everyone should know the importance of making a good first impression, how to use non-threatening and positive body language, giving effective praise and how to come to meetings prepared with valuable information. With knowledge and good technique, you’ll not only feel more comfortable and confident in your conversations but also gain more friends and quickly move up the ladder of success. So keep that praising and compliments going.
Check out my related post: 9 Signs That You’re An Ambivert